Thursday 26 April 2018

Television: RTÉ could probably also do with a farmer in charge...

No fun on the farm: Maurice Walsh lends a hand to Tallaght business owners Nick and Claire in a new RTÉ series.
No fun on the farm: Maurice Walsh lends a hand to Tallaght business owners Nick and Claire in a new RTÉ series.

John Boland

I'd love to have attended the RTÉ commissioning session at which someone pitched the idea for Farmer in Charge and someone in Montrose approved it.

There's always been a basic logic to the long-running At Your Service, in which the Brennan brothers have used their hotel expertise to advise ailing hospitality outlets on how to get things right. And even that silly Norah Casey series in which she got the workers to run their bosses' businesses was lent some credibility by her own entrepreneurial know-how.

But drafting in a Mitchelstown dairy farmer to redress the struggling fortunes of a hair-and-beauty salon in suburban Dublin smacks of a channel's desperation in trying to come up with new slants on tired old formats. What next? A series in which a plumber solves the crisis in our health service? Or how about a solicitor masterminding our wind-energy needs?

But no, seemingly it's only members of our esteemed agricultural fraternity who can be relied on to deliver the requisite advisory goods, because at the outset of Farmer in Charge (RTÉ1), narrator Marty Morrissey revealed that farmers are not only "Ireland's unsung business heroes" but are "multi-skilled powerhouses" who "really do it all".

And so we were introduced to Maurice Walsh, whose farm, Marty informed us, was "a testament to his hard work and management smarts" and we were also introduced to Nick and Claire, whose commercially shaky salon was situated in a featureless mall in the Old Bawn area of Tallaght. Cue all the usual reality-doc cliches as Maurice's impatient dynamism met with resistance from reluctant Nick who, in Maurice's verdict, "still can't get his head round the basics". And cue various contrived mini-crises as relaunch day loomed.

What on earth was this piffle about? Well, it certainly wasn't RTÉ at your service.

In the run-up to Euro 2016, Irish fans' favourite Frenchman hosted Thierry Henry: My France, My Euros (BBC1) and the result combined two words not often found in the same sentence: thoughtfulness and football.

His notorious hand pass may have cheated Ireland in the past, but the viewer never felt cheated during a film in which Henry spoke interestingly of his identity, both as a player and as a French person, and of various key moments in the history of this particular championship.

There were good recollections and insights, too, from Ruud Gullit, Jurgen Klinsmann, Alan Shearer and other star players, and it all made for an absorbing hour.

More absorbing, certainly, than Murphy and O'Kane Do...Le Football (BBC1 Northern Ireland), in which comedians Colin Murphy and Jake O'Kane spent most of the programme's 40 minutes cackling at their own and each other's jokes.

The premise, boastfully announced at the outset by Murphy, was that "neither of us knows or cares anything about football", and to this end they visited various fans in a supposed bid to discover what it was all about, sniggering and chortling as they went along. It was tiresome in the extreme.

Somewhat more tolerable, Euro 2012: You'll Never Beat the Irish? (RTÉ1) was a follow-up to last week's film about Euro '88 and featured most of the same interviewees.

"Never the most attractive team to watch" was broadcaster George Hamilton's understated verdict on Trapattoni's chosen players and the film was a chastening reminder of just how wretched Irish soccer can be. And we were reminded, too, of Roy Keane's withering comments as Irish fans continued belting out 'The Fields of Athenry' while the team were being slaughtered on the pitch. "I'm not too happy with all that nonsense", he told his ITV interviewer, "let's not just go along for the sing-song".

And let's hope we won't be doing the same with the team he and Martin O'Neill have put in this latest bid for Irish glory.

Scripted by Jimmy McGovern, Reg (BBC1) told the story of Reg Keys, whose son was killed, along with five army colleagues, by an Iraqi mob in 2003 and whose outrage at Tony Blair's continued insistence that the Iraqis had weapons of mass destruction led him to stand against the prime minister in the Sedgwick constituency.

He lost, but he did get to make an eloquent speech in front of an uncomfortable Blair that received much attention.

Tim Roth played him with admirable restraint and Anna Maxwell Martin was affecting as his wife, though much of what she said was difficult to catch.

Decidedly less impressive is the much-vaunted BBC1 series, Versailles, which was made by Canal+ in France but which features mainly English actors speaking in English. Nondescript actors, too, and mostly indistinguishable from each other in their foppish finery and wigs, like a 1980s glam-rock band whose tour bus took a wrong turning.

Also speaking English on foreign soil, Kenneth Branagh's Wallander (BBC1) came to a surprisingly moving end as the detective succumbed to early Alzheimer's. The actor managed this sudden and bewildering decline very well - even if not as movingly as Krister Henriksson in the finale of the outstanding Swedish version.

Outcast (Fox) is a supernatural thriller about demonic possession and is the brainchild of Robert Kirkman, who previously dreamed up The Walking Dead.

The bad news is that this week's first episode came across like a cut-price The Exorcist, with lots of projectile vomiting and not much promise of anything original.

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